Ask yourself, ‘I wonder why? …’

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 11, 2010

Good ideas can come when you least expect them. One recently came from a smart reader about halfway down the rice aisle at Natchez Market.

A local man and long-time reader, who I’ve known for years and years, stopped me and said, “I wonder why …” and then he proceeded to ask a series of questions related to things happening — or not happening — in our community.

His point was to suggest lots of little things exist that he thinks either need public attention or a better public understanding.

“You should run a little article or something where you ask readers to write in their ‘I wonder why?’ questions,” he said.

“Think about that,” he said as he headed his buggy in the opposite direction. “I wonder why? …”

It’s an interesting idea and one I’d like to consider.

This newspaper has for decades been a way for citizens to interact with the community as a whole. It’s a conduit for them to ask questions publicly or express their opinions on issues.

For years, we’ve run Top of the Morning articles.

Through the years the topics of these have run from the extremely serious — race, abortion, crime, etc. — to the much more mundane things like promoting community events.

And beyond Top of the Mornings, we’ve accepted letters to the editor from readers for decades, too.

Those two opinion avenues continue to be great ways to express opinions that require some explanation or background.

But sometimes, a reader has a question or a thought that doesn’t require great length. Perhaps the question is a short and simple e-mail or phone call, not a full, signed letter.

Years ago, former Mayor Tony Byrne ran a regular column in the newspaper in which he pretty much did the exact same thing for city issues.

Byrne told me recently that at the time he started the Mayor’s Beef Session column, his political advisors warned him against doing so.

“It was the best thing I could have ever done,” he said.

For years, I’ve invited each of our mayors to follow Byrne’s lead and write a similar column, but thus far, few have accepted and none with any frequency.

I’d just about given up on the idea since no one seemed interested.

The recent grassroots, citizens’ involvement by the Taxed Enough Already Party got me thinking about the idea again. I’ve never doubted the power of an informed public that feels as if they have a voice in their community.

Even if you don’t agree with the TEA Party’s message, they’ve reminded us all that everyone in America can stand up for their beliefs and receive some attention.

So the TEA Party folks got me thinking, but the rice aisle reader moved me to action. The newspaper can try our best to help answer the public’s questions.

First, however, we just need a few questions to get us started.

How often we publish the questions and the answers, will depend on how many we receive and how quickly we can locate answers.

But let’s get started. If you have a question or ever wondered about something, let us know and we’ll try to find out or bring attention to your concern.

Write to: I wonder why?, c/o The Natchez Democrat, P.O. Box 1447, Natchez MS 39120 or e-mail us at: why@natchezdemocrat.com.

And, if you see me in the rice aisle, or anywhere else for that matter, let me know what else we can do to make the newspaper more useful to you.

Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or kevin.cooper@natchezdemocrat.com.